Troubled Japanese tech giant Sony’s president and CEO Howard Stringer is to step down, the firm said Wednesday as it looks to staunch four years of losses in the face of fierce competition.
Sony has been assailed on multiple fronts, with mobile phones challenging its key games division — the scene of an embarrassing hacking scandal — huge losses in televisions, and piracy threatening its music and film assets.
Welsh-born American Stringer, 69, who was knighted in 1999 and was the first foreigner to lead the firm, is the latest in a series of high-profile outsiders to leave top positions in Japanese companies.
He will be succeeded by Kazuo Hirai, a games and music veteran, who will take over as president and chief executive in April, a company statement said, while Stringer will become chairman of the board of directors in June.
“I look forward to helping Kaz in every way I can so that succession leads inevitably to success,” he said. “He is ready to lead, and the time to make this change is now.”
Hirai, 51 — who according to Dow Jones Newswires started his career as a translator for groups including US rappers the Beastie Boys — played a major role in developing the PlayStation in the 1990s and has spent most of his career at Sony in software businesses.
“As challenging as times are for Sony now, were it not for the strong leadership of Sir Howard Stringer these past seven years, we would have been in a much more difficult position,” he said.
Sony was once one of the world’s most distinctive electronics companies, with its Walkman and Discman products revolutionising consumers’ use of music, but it has been eclipsed in recent years by the likes of Apple.
The Tokyo-based maker of PlayStation consoles and Bravia televisions is projecting an annual net loss of 90 billion yen ($1.2 billion), its fourth consecutive year in the red, as it reels from the impact of a strong yen, weak sales, Japan’s March disasters, and severe flooding in Thailand.
The company has also faced specific troubles of its own, with an enormous data breach forcing it to shut down its PlayStation Network and Qriocity services in April with more than 100 million customer accounts compromised.
The company admitted that it was possible credit card details had been accessed, and in October it suspended 93,000 accounts after detecting a wave of unauthorised sign-in attempts.
Two weeks ago, ratings agency Moody’s downgraded Sony’s debt to Baa1 from A3, saying the company faced “weak and volatile” earnings and a long struggle to get back on a firm financial footing, with the television division particularly troublesome.
Reports have previously said Sony was planning a drastic restructuring under Hirai to try to return to profit.
His earlier promotion to deputy president was seen by analysts as signalling a greater focus on pushing content to multiple hardware platforms such as game consoles, smartphones and tablet computers.
An analyst at a leading securities firm in Tokyo said: “Right now, the company’s worst section is the business-to-consumer division. So Hirai will have to restructure it as new president.”
He added: “Since Stringer took the reins of the company, it has made no progress, so the shift in the corporate leadership is more or less Stringer stepping back.”
Stringer, a former journalist, had a long career at US broadcaster CBS before joining Sony, rising to become chairman and chief executive in 2005 as the Japanese giant’s first foreign chief. He added the presidency to his roles in 2009.
He had previously dismissed speculation he would be stepping down at the end of the current fiscal year.
In November he said he was “up for the fight” of trying to turn the firm around and was “not leaving the job”.
“The Queen said she had a year called annus horribilis,” he said then. “And I sympathise. I think this year would defy almost any CEO. I’ll get the company through it.”
Sony’s announcement means that Stringer is the latest foreigner to leave a top position at a Japanese company in recent months.
Briton Michael Woodford was sacked as CEO of camera and medical equipment maker Olympus, later revealing the firm’s cover-up of $1.7 billion in losses, while Jasjit Bhattal, the Indian-origin head of Nomura’s wholesale division, stepped down from Japan’s top brokerage last month.
He had been the first foreigner to join Nomura’s executive committee and his resignation was seen as highlighting the difficulties Japanese firms have as they try to branch out abroad and adopt Western business models.